His honest disinterest in the Jewish holidays may offer you all an opportunity to think again about what these holidays mean to your family. Here are some thoughts about Shabbat, the weekly holiday which sets the standard for all the others, that might help awaken all of you to new possibilities.
Shabbat contains within it many subtle, but still important, lessons. It is the “zero” of the week, the origin and destination of the other days which Jewish tradition knows only by number, as laid out in the Book of Genesis, Chapter One. That is, Jews taste time in a 6/1 tempo, and give the 7th day the name, Shabbat, which means simply, STOP. Shabbat then teaches the human art of stopping whatever it is you are doing. Shabbat is the Jewish tradition of shouting on the playground of life, “Freeze!”
How might this find expression at the table? Begin maybe with the candles that symbolize the light that God first called into being — not sunlight, for God did not create the sun until the 4th day — the light of Light, the dawn of awareness. Light the candles (maybe one for each member of the family), then conjure the light with your hands as if escorting the photons into your pupils, then place your hands over your closed eyes and think about this light. Ponder the grace of a week ending, the freedom to receive, rest, wait, dream, the subtlety of letting breath breathe, of listening without speaking, looking without searching, of being, simply being, together with ones you love, at peace. And say thank you for the gift of light. Then open your eyes and let yourself feel the surprise of light, the mystery of sight, the warmth of subtle illumination.
Now you let yourself feel the presence that each one at the table silently brings. You receive that presence as a gift, knowing that in receiving it, you are sharing it. Maybe you and your husband quietly bless your children, one at a time, your hands on their heads, followed by a kiss.
Because Shabbat is the opener to mystery, the invitation not only to stop, but to rest, witness, observe, remember, and recover amazement and well-being, it serves as archetype for all the other Jewish holidays. I hope these thoughts trigger some new ideas for you, aid you in achieving your goal of shaping a family that lives out the Jewish holidays with joy.
James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain Emeritus at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has four children and six grandchildren.